Saturday, February 1, 2014

Louisiana Movies: Belizaire the Cajun

Belizaire the Cajun. Credit: Cote Blanche

Movie: Belizaire the Cajun

Provenance: Lafayette, Cecelia, and Henderson, Louisiana.

Synopsis from Roger Ebert:
[The film] takes place in Louisiana in the years before the Civil War [1859, to be exact], after the long exile of the Cajuns at last seemed over. They settled in peaceful coexistence with their Anglo-Saxon neighbors, but as the movie opens there is trouble. A marauding band of Anglo vigilantes is burning Cajun homes and warning them to get out of town.
What and how things transpire in the movie is a jumble of drama, low comedy, wit, poignancy, romance, and history lessons. Belizaire (played by Armand Assante) is the lead. He's the village healer, the mediator, the would-be lover, orator, hero, and .... buffoon. The buffoonish bits felt off to me, especially when they followed dramatic sequences.

On one hand, I was impressed by how authentic the visual scenery and props seemed to be, even to how Alida (the female lead) washed dishes and fed chickens. On the other hand, the careful versimilitude reminded me of watching televised re-enactments of Important Historical Events in middle-school.

Having said the above, it would be valuable to watch the movie again, but this time in the company of a cajun historian. There were some lines and scenes in the movie that whizzed by, but which I'm pretty sure had rich back stories. Cajuns would recognize the references, but many would be lost on an outsider like me. Just a few examples: 
  • Louisiana historical inheritance laws versus other states' inheritance laws. It happens that the docent at the Lafayette Visitor Center had given me a brief history on this very topic when I visited in November. If she hadn't done so, the movie scene would have meant little to me. 
  • References by cajuns to the "americaines." Although the movie was set in 1859 Louisiana, when presumably all the folks (well, all the white folks, let's remember) were American citizens, these references imply a lot. 
  • Legal marriages - or better said perhaps - registered marriages among cajuns in the mid 1800s. There were implications in the movie that common-law marriages were not unusual, but that the relatively recent arrival of a priest had resulted in the expectation for legal marriages. 
  • The sheriff quipped to Belizaire that he was surprised Belizaire could read. I suspect this is a reference to the disparagement cajuns received by "americans" regarding their culture, education, and intelligence. 

Recommended? Yes, with managed expectations.

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